What Schwarzenegger does next

In his most famous set of movies, the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, plays a robot sent from the future.

In those "Terminator" movies, Schwarzenegger is either supposed to kill a little boy's mom or save the boy's life. At the end of each picture, the boy is saved, and Schwarzenegger's robot character is dismembered and melted down, and the little red light inside his eye socket goes out.

Metaphorically anyway, we're talking about term limits. Barred from another four years as governor of California, Schwarzenegger is facing what we in show business call a "third-act problem." His first two acts have been dazzling successes: He's been an international movie star, playing all sorts of diverse kinds of robots; he's been a popular and surprisingly effective governor, when you consider how thoroughly childish and ungovernable we citizens of this state insist on remaining.

Nevertheless, in 2010 his little red governor's light is going to go out, and he's going to have to think about his next big career move.

Schwarzenegger is going to be facing a champagne buffet of choices, from playing more killing machines from the future, to serving on the boards of the several private-equity shops still in business, to running drama and alternative programming development for one of the big basic cable outfits. He could do it all.

Schwarzenegger's genial and lighthearted leadership style -- backstopped by his muscular frame and tough- guy delivery -- will serve him in almost any difficult managerial situation. I would pitch him to the gang at Comcast as a perfect CEO of their newly purchased NBC Universal unit. And who needs a scary homicidal robot more than the executive committee of the awkwardly merged William Morris Endeavor?

He might even be tempted to stay in politics. Constitutionally, of course, he isn't presidential timber. Our Founding Fathers, in their typical shortsightedness, never anticipated the rise of a bodybuilding champion from Austria becoming a beloved Hollywood superstar and then becoming governor of a then- undiscovered state in the unexplored West with a sackful of electoral votes.

Let's be frank: Staying in politics for Arnold means going to the Senate.

In movie star terms, this is sort of like giving up and going on television, which is a painful and difficult adjustment for a lot of stars to make. But like any project, it's all about the package. A classy, smart show on HBO or Showtime might make sense. (And maybe it's time to give the robot a little character shading, a little depth.)

So there's some logic to packing up the family and moving to Georgetown. "Sen. Schwarzenegger" has a nice ring to it, and even better: no term limits. His little red light can shine unblinkingly until he's as old as West Virginia's Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who in many ways also resembles a terrifying robot from another time.

But which seat to run for? If he moves quickly -- something along the lines of his work in the cult classic "Running Man" -- he easily could unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer in November. That would be a terrific way in -- what we in the business call "the inciting incident" -- and it would catapult the story into a genre more suited for a 62-year-old star.

So how about this: The fun starts when Sen. Schwarzenegger has to share the stage with his probable co-star in the Senate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. It's not really a buddy picture that either one of them might relish: prim, uptight Feinstein, coughing ostentatiously as Schwarzenegger's cigar smoke clouds around her sensible knits; the two of them forced to endure each other as they shuffle around D.C., begging, bowl rattling, trying to get the feds to bail out our battered state; and maybe, just maybe, despite their differences and mutual dislike, falling in love.

Talk about your third acts! Excuse me while I call my agent. I've got a Nora Ephron-ish picture to pitch.

Long, a veteran television writer and producer, has a weekly commentary, "Martini Shot," on a Los Angeles public radio station.LOS ANGELES TIMES